Tag Archives: New York

UNCUT GEMS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

UNCUT GEMS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directors: Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard

Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsh etc.

Cinematography: Darius Khondji

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



This is a film about an arsehole. Aptly enough we are introduced to the main protagonist, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), as he has a rectal examination of his colon and other extremities. From here on we descend into the mired cesspool that is Howard’s dysfunctional business, family, love and extra-curricular activities. He is, on the surface, a successful businessman selling jewellery, watches and gems within New York’s Diamond district. Alas, he is also a degenerate gambler who is being chased by all manner of shark-like money lenders. Most hungry of all is Eric Bogosian’s Arno, who also happens to be Howard’s brother-in-law.

So, we find ourselves in the company of a thoroughly unedifying character such as Howard. Yet, in Adam Sandler’s brilliant performance and searing direction by the Safdie Brothers, you get caught up in his latest cynical money-making plan to sell an uncut opal rock from Ethiopia at auction. The rock itself becomes — reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000) — a metaphorically blood-stained McGuffin that drags us into the underbelly of New York’s sports, pawnbroker, bookmaker, entertainment and loan shark territories. Aside from Howard’s wife and children everyone is looking for luck and a buck. Everyone’s a hustler. Everyone talks and shouts and swears over each other, creating a sense of panic throughout many scenes of deal-making and deal-breaking.



Opening with two visually very different internal examinations that involve “mining”, the Safdie brothers film Uncut Gems (2019), is a stylish and rampant anxiety inducing character study and thriller. The plot, which in itself, is quite straightforward, is wrapped in a series of heart-sweating gambles, twists and double-crosses. Supporting Sandler’s fine central performance, the Safdie Brothers find acting gold with Lakeith Stanfield’s memorable supporting turn, plus basketball legend, Kevin Garnett brilliantly playing himself! Allied to this, you also get a rogue’s gallery of personalities straight out of the local New York jewellery area itself. These characters add a further dirty authenticity to the already chaotic urban environment.

Like the Safdie Brothers previous film, the ironically titled, Good Time (2017), we are once again introduced to a set of morally repugnant characters who, rather than root for, you are dragged down into their disturbing lifestyle choices and increasingly poor decisions. Howard himself is an unrelenting addict, his own worst enemy and a whirlwind of broken promises. But, I must admit I was gripped throughout due to overwhelmingly brilliant style, cinematography, editing, direction, darkly funny script and acting performances. My only criticism is that for all the black humour, bone-breaking violence and heart-sweating suspense, the film could have easily been 15 minutes shorter. I like a lot of plot and action, but at times the narrative was over-loaded with characters and scenes that could have been chopped. Lastly, it’s great to witness Adam Sandler taking another risky role, even if Howard Ratner is fundamentally an arsehole from the probing start to the very bitter end.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Produced by: David Heyman, Noah Baumbach

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merrit Weaver etc.

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

Distributed by: Netflix

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I think one of the trickiest things that can hinder a writer, is that doubt whether it is worth telling one’s story. This is especially true of privileged or first world narratives involving wealthy characters or those deemed not having to struggle daily. For me the way to beat such doubt is to write the hell out of your story. Moreover, you’ve got to make the story relevant to all audiences by concentrating on universal themes and creating empathetic characters. Noah Baumbach achieves this by writing and directing the hell out of Marriage Story (2019); a moving drama that focuses on something we can all relate to — a relationship break-up.

The film centres on a couple of creatives, Nicole and Charlie Barber, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Charlie is a New York theatre director; Nicole is a Los Angeles actress. They have both been committed to forging successful careers. The film opens brilliantly as they attend relationship mediation, attempting to divorce amicably without the use of lawyers. Baumbach’s superb script starts strongly with each character delivering bittersweet monologues that describe what attracts them most to each other. Sadly, for them and their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), mediation fails and it’s not long before they are drawn into the Kafkaesque, manipulative and financially draining American legal system.



This is a gem of a film which finds a seemingly suited couple learning that their differences have slowly been driving a wedge between them. Charlie is a controlled and respected director who has worked his way up from nothing. Nicole is a more privileged, but equally talented actress; however, her free-spirited nature is locked in his shadows. Geographically too they are very different. While he is originally from Indiana, he has made New York his home. Moreover, while his avant garde plays have gained him critical acclaim, she yearns for the sunlight of Los Angeles and the offer of TV work. Thus, through sheer brilliance of the writing we, in a short period of time, understand and empathise with both characters’ situations.

As the narrative develops Baumbach’s script is brought to life with two incredible central performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They imbue Nicole and Charlie with a humanity and warmth, that even when we do not agree with their actions, we are still with them. As the story was inspired by his own divorce, Baumbach cares very much about these people. Indeed, he gives each actor the chance to shine during a number of fine monologues, bitter exchanges and heartfelt scenes of acceptance and potential reconciliation. Further, the supporting cast members are also really great too. Ray Liotta as a bitter shark of a lawyer and Laura Dern, as his legal adversary, have some wonderfully biting lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, Alan Alda, as Charlie’s other legal representative, is arguably too nice and avuncular for this cutthroat business. Together these collective legal minds, while shining a plausibly negative light on divorce proceedings, added strong energy to the comedy and drama of the film.

Ultimately, I have always respected Noah Baumbach’s films because he is a very solid independent writer and director. However, with Marriage Story (2019), he has matured beyond belief to create a compelling and funny relationship drama. It is full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver ever impressing and Scarlett Johansson delivering the best performance of her career. Lastly, as someone who has experienced a very difficult break-up involving a child, I felt every moment of grief, heartache, humour, love and relief on the screen. Yet, it’s worth reliving those moments because you know you survived; and so will Charlie, Nicole and their son, Henry.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS: UNBELIEVABLE (2019) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS

Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews of Unbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



UNBELIEVABLE (2019)

Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.

Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.

Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.



Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.

The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.

The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.

Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.

Mark: 9 out of 11



WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Directed by: Ava Duvernay

Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury

Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams



If Unbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations, When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”

The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.

Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.

Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.

Mark: 10 out of 11


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #17 – SPIKE LEE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #17 – SPIKE LEE

Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has been a prolific actor, director, producer and polemicist for some time now. An ultra talented and outspoken cinematic artist, he has directed thirty fiction and documentary films since his debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Plus, all manner of promos, commercials, music videos, short films and television series.

To celebrate his work and the fact he finally got recognised for his amazing filmmaking skills by the Oscars this year, I would like to highlight, five of his finest films that are worth watching and rewatching. An energetic firebrand of a director he has made films in many genres and is a risk-taker in subject, theme and style. Whether you agree with what he has to say he is a filmmaker who is always creating situations and characters who must be heard. Here are some great examples of his cinematic work.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

DO THE RIGHT THING (1986)

Spike Lee’s incendiary look at the day in the life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood finds a variety of characters coping with both rising temperatures and simmering racial tension. Lee’s brilliant script is fully of boldly written and brightly sketched characters presented via a succession of hilarious and dramatic vignettes. The formal excellence on show too from Lee is to be applauded as he uses devices from: music video and cinema to tell his rich stories. The day does not end well as the neighbourhood erupts into tragic violence with Lee proving himself adept at balancing humour, politics and tragedy in equal measure.

MALCOLM X (1992)

Arguably, Malcolm X (1992), is Spike Lee’s most significant and impressive film. It charts the life and death of a man born Malcolm Little who would grow to be anything but. After a troubled childhood he became a drug dealer and criminal in order to survive. Having converted to Islam he rejected his slave roots, going on to become one of the most outspoken voices against black oppression the world has ever seen. The project took decades to come to the screen and Lee and Washington both faced objections from many parties for their involvement. However, the finished film a masterful biography capturing the spirit of an intelligent, passionate and outspoken individual trying to right the wrongs within American society and history. Both Lee and Washington should have won Oscars for their work. The film stands ultimately as a fine cinematic tribute to a true spokesperson for a generation.

HE GOT GAME (1998)

From my basic research Spike Lee is revealed to be a New York Knicks fan. It’s no surprise then his love of basketball really shines through in this mix of sport, crime and personal drama. The story follows young hot-shot basketball prospect, Jesus Shuttlesworth, and the decision he has to make in regard to which college he goes to. On paper it’s Jesus’ choice but in reality he has all manner of people attempting to influence him. These include: his girlfriend, his coach, agents, local gangsters and most pressing of all, his jailed father portrayed by Denzel Washington. Ray Allen is excellent as Jesus and Lee invokes an empathetic character study with lashings of verve and style.

INSIDE MAN (2006)

Spike Lee directs in confident style, with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen both excellent as the lead cop and main criminal. Jodie Foster is brilliant too as a venal fixer brought in by Christopher Plummer’s bank owner. What makes Lee’s direction ping here is his deft handling of a complex structure within the heist genre. Moreover, Lee demonstrates he is able to convey a genre story with impeccable skill and deliver fine screen performances to boot. I especially loved the diversity of the supporting characters and the film oozes a pure New York atmosphere throughout.

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)

BlacKKKlansman (2018) is a complex film which expertly mixes many genres, infusing musical, thriller, Blaxploitation, comedy and documentary styles, making it a joy to experience. Spike Lee has never been afraid of experimenting and sometimes his films have not worked because of it. However, with this he succeeded in making one of the best films of 2018. It should have won Best Film Oscar in my view. It is thought-provoking but never preachy for the sake of it and uses humour most often as a weapon to undermine the senseless ideologies of the KKK. Indeed, in ridicule there is hope they may eventually be side-lined to the shadows of history.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Produced by: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee

Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston etc.

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Have you ever thought: what’s the point in carrying on? We know we’re going to die someday so why bother trying to live? Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus and deemed life an exercise in the absurd. He offered mythological character Sisyphus as an example. Sisyphus was condemned to immortality for deceiving the Gods and his penance was to push a massive rock up a hill over and over. Camus wasn’t all doom and gloom, because he opined Sisyphus’s struggle ultimately gave his life meaning.

Why am I skirting around such philosophical musings? Well, John Wick is a classic “Sisyphean” character; destined to a repetitive cycle of life and death with very slim reasons for carrying on. In the first film it was revenge. In the second film it was paying back a marker; and then revenge. In the current, and third film of the franchise, it’s because he broke the rules of the assassin’s world and must pay the $14 million price. Plus, more revenge.

Yet, plot and reason are not the main purpose for watching this franchise. I watch it for the non-stop-Asian-infused-rainy-New-York-noir-flavoured-non-stop-balletic-violence-and-stunts. Here the incredible death toll and bloody killing is differentiated somewhat with: animals, vehicles and assorted sharp ojects joining the array of guns and fists used to hurt the two-dimensional bad people sent by the mysterious High Table gangsters. It doesn’t pay to analyse the film with logic, so just enjoy the immaculate: set design, art direction, cinematography, choreography, editing, visuals; and all-encompassing sound and fury.

Keanu Reeves, once again ignores the limits of his emotional range to deliver a formidable physical performance. Just his face, actions and movement alone are enough to convey his desires. Meanwhile, the writers open out John Wick’s back-story; shading in his past relationships and historical beginnings. This allows us to escape New York and venture to the Middle East, for a bit of sun and much needed change of scenery.

The film also welcomes a slew of fine character actors in support roles including: Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn, Asia Kate Dillon and Angelica Huston. They join the ever reliable Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick from the first two chapters. Although, someone may have asked Fishburne to “rain” in his more bombastic moments, it’s still fun to see Neo and Morpheus on screen together. Oh, but the stunt dogs and 1990s B-movie action hero, Mark Dacascos, steal the show in their featured moments.

Overall, while showing signs of formula fatigue, John Wick: Chapter 3, remains a simple but wonderfully entertaining guilty pleasure. The choreography within the fight scenes and car/horse/motorcycle chases just transcend the action genre. Using: humour, pace, shock and sheer kinetic power they consistently startle and astound. Lastly, one could look at Wick’s character in mythical terms, perpetually fighting the Gods and forever pushing the rock up that hill. Indeed, I guess, like Sisyphus, Wick will carry on ad infinitum as long as there is someone to kill; and an audience wanting to watch such exquisite carnage on a big screen.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

BILLIONS (2016 – ) – SEASON 3 – SHOWTIME REVIEW – “Television Theatre of the highest order!”

BILLIONS (2016 –   ) – SEASON 3 – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

Created by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Åkerman, Toby Leonard Moore, David Costabile, Condola Rashād, Asia Kate Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn

Distributor: Showtime Network

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

billions-season-3-damian-lewis.jpg

After experiencing the dizzying, serpentine narrative cul-de-sacs and mazes of Westworld Season 2, I was grateful to drink in the relative comfort of some genre drama that actually made sense. I mean I don’t mind working hard to gain pleasure from the TV viewing but non-linearity for the sake of it, or because the writers are so self-aware, they believe it is demanded of them irks me somewhat. The writers of Billions on the other hand rely on: good old proper plotting; sharp and witty dialogue; well-rounded archetypal characters; fantastic scenery-chewing performances; and an uber-ensemble cast of television and cinema actors to die for.

billions-season-3-5-1500x844

Once again, Season 3 posits a similar question to the last two: how do you make the rich and privileged empathetic? Well, firstly you have the aforementioned brilliant cast of vintage screen actors, notably: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, David Constabile, Jeffery DeMunn, Malin Akerman, plus exceptional newcomers such as Asia Kate Dillon; and finally parachute in veteran warhorses like John Malkovich and Clancy Brown. Secondly, you make these greedy and power-hungry legal and financial based individuals brilliant at everything. Thus, pleasure is derived from the characters trying to out-brilliant and out-do themselves. In Season 3, the writers manage to find some more exceptional ways which the characters can fuck each other over.

billions-season-3-20180326113510-341257

The first two seasons saw Giamatti’s Attorney General, Chuck Rhodes try and take down financial demon of Wall Street, Bobby Axelrod. Watching these two rich-privileged-masters-of-universe-types ripping each other apart from a legal, family and financial perspective is absolutely riveting drama. I’m not always down with the fast-paced nature of the economic markets but essentially you don’t have to be because the writing always puts the human drama first before the jargon.   Season 3 followed in a similar vein to the previous two and contained a very interesting structure. The writing continued to be whip-cracking funny and twisted and the plots were a joy; full of arch Machiavellian machinations galore. The twists around episodes six and seven were absolutely brilliant and I was gripped. The final few episodes then manoeuvred the characters like chess pieces, carefully laying the foundations for what promises to be a monumental, melodramatic and mesmerising Season 4.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)